In the last days of 1988, shortly after my grandmother died, I went with my mother to sort through Mammaw’s things. Among them was a letter from her brother, Loren, in which he had detailed what he knew about their family history. Up until then I hadn't had any questions about our ancestors, but I suddenly realized that I'd better start thinking up some questions and asking them whle there was still someone alive who knew the answers. From that day forward I’ve been on a quest to expand Uncle Loren’s list. With the aid of a few interested relatives and the wonderful resources of Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker, I’ve spent 17 years fitting together pieces of this family puzzle.
Genealogy is one of those things that people are either interested in or they’re not, and I try not to put anybody to sleep with facts about who begat whom. But when they want to know, I’m ready for ‘em. I’ll tell them that we share ancestors with the Roosevelts of New York and Washington, and with the Fondas of Hollywood. I’ll tell them that Mary Boleyn, sister of beheaded Anne, was our 15th great-grandmother and had her own hanky-panky with King Henry VIII. We'll talk about those famous names first, and then we'll talk about the hundreds of other ancestors who were average, hard-working people, just like us. We’ll look at old photos together and try to determine which of those facial features we can see in our loved ones, and we’ll follow the trail of red hair that skips and jumps through our extended family.
I’ve loved every minute of poring over census records and online family trees, putting names (putting real people, actually) into a database where, with a few keystrokes, I can take them out and spend time with them for a while. There aren’t a lot of leaves left unturned on this family tree, so the research isn't occupying much of my time these days. Still, I think often about all those people who came before me and about the circumstances and coincidences that ultimately led to my existence in this time and place.
Note: The people in the picture above are my great-grandparents. This was their wedding picture, made in 1895.